Why Am I Embarrassed That I Have Breast Cancer?

Question: Why do I feel embarrassed that I have been diagnosed with breast cancer?

Answer: I think any time you're diagnosed with a serious and potentially life-threatening illness, there's a period of adjustment when you realize that your life has changed in dramatic ways that you would not have chosen, obviously. Especially with cancer, I think there's a mythology that surrounds the diagnosis and treatment of cancer that can be quite powerful.

Despite our best efforts, people who are diagnosed with cancer, often feel some sense of self-blame, that perhaps in some way, they've brought this on themselves. And there is a large popular literature that would perhaps lead a woman to believe that, in some sense, the way they handle stress or manage their anger, might have contributed to their becoming diagnosed with breast cancer.

And I think all of that can contribute to a feeling of embarrassment, in addition to the factor that the treatments that you'll be considering are intrusive and difficult to discuss. And, all of these factors can combine to make it somewhat embarrassing to deal with the issue. I think it's important that women move beyond that, and understand that treating this disease is the same as treating any other disease; there are decisions to be made, actions to be taken, and this feeling of embarrassment, hopefully, will be transient.

Michael Zevon, MD
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